Alas, the last chance to stop runaway global heating has been postponed until next year. As the New York Times noted in a Sunday Nov. 14 email news alert, “With the bang of a gavel at the COP26 summit in Glasgow, diplomats struck an agreement that called on governments to return next year with stronger plans to curb emissions.” So now the survival of civilization, polar bears and possibly humans depends on the COP27 planned for Sharm El-Sheik Egypt of all places. Perhaps organizers and delegates haven’t heard that hot places are bad and the Middle East due to climate change is on the verge of becoming uninhabitable. Those beaches full of happy visitors are just a mirage. But so, apparently, were all the achievements about to burst forth in Glasgow.
The delegates actually pulled an all-nighter to cobble together a deal that pleased no one for obvious reasons. But also delighted them for mysterious ones. Conference president Alok Sharma actually fought tears as he said “I apologise for the way this has unfolded and I am deeply sorry”. But then he declared to sustained applause “I think it is vital that we protect this package”.
From what? Mockery? As the New York Times had said on Saturday, said “Global negotiators in Glasgow agreed to do more to fight climate change and aid vulnerable nations, but left crucial questions unresolved.” Like how, and on what timetable, and why we keep saying we know exactly what’s happening and what to do and it’s incredibly urgent then fire off a damp squib and call it the greatest fireworks show ever.
Climate Home News celebrated that “The Glasgow Climate Pact refers to coal for the first time in the UN process.” Um yes, but the coal pledge was watered down from “phase-out” to “phase-down” which is a little hard to square with “last chance” and ten-years-to-save-the-planet. CHN went on that the deal “asks countries to come back with stronger climate plans in 2022” which is vulnerable to the same objection. As for clapping that “it finalises the most contentious elements of the Paris Agreement rulebook”, as we demonstrated in our videos on that pact, if everyone met their commitments the models say it would only reduce global temperature by about 0.1 degrees C by 2100 which nobody thinks important and some of us think unmeasurable.
The usual suspects are whistling past the graveyard. Christina Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC (the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) from July 2010 through July 2016, wrote an Op Ed in the Guardian claiming that “The success of Cop26 lies in the eyes of the beholder. Many will say that we continue to irresponsibly spin the political wheels, and from some vantage points that is true, but no one can deny that Cop26 has hastened the speed of the wheels of change.” But not even she believes it. That passage came at the end of a piece that started “If a bus were hurtling towards a child in the middle of the road, no one nearby would take merely one step to get that child out of the way. They would rush, at speeds previously unbeknownst to them, using every muscle in their body, to get that child to safety. On the climate crisis, a bus is careering toward us and we have still not flexed all our muscle power to get ourselves or future generations to safety.”
Bad? Oh yeah. She continued “Emissions continue to rise. The loss and damage is devastating. Trust has been breached. The resulting frustration, anger and incredulity at the pace of progress is warranted. As activists of all stripes remind us constantly, we need systems change, not climate change. And they are absolutely right.” And skeptics of all stripes remind you constantly that you do an amazingly convincing impression of pampered windbags who say all the right stuff but absolutely do not act as though you believed in the crisis from which you have made such financially and socially lucrative careers.
To borrow a phrase from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, “there’s no way to make it sound like an achievement”. (For instance the NBC headline “'Hanging by a thread’: Nations strike key climate deal but crisis still looms” doesn’t quite come across as “Hooray, we’re saved”.) And the Guardian itself ran another piece with the headline “Cop26: Pacific delegates condemn ‘monumental failure’ that leaves islands in peril”. NBC went further, submerging them in an email “Sinking island nation that made eye-catching climate plea laments last-minute deal” though the actual story only called it “Island nation at risk of extinction from rising seas”.
The overpromising organizers seem not to have realized China and India needed coal power and would not give it up. How did they reach such a place of impenetrable ignorance after 26 years of these conferences? What else don’t they know? Well, Climate Home News seems surprised by the lack of “climate reparations” potentially reaching into the trillions of dollars.
As for what else they didn’t do, the Times also said in that Sunday email “The agreement states clearly that all nations will need to slash their carbon dioxide emissions nearly in half this decade to hold warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. It also urges wealthy nations to ‘at least double’ funding by 2025 to protect the most vulnerable nations from the hazards of a hotter planet. And it explicitly mentions the need to curb fossil fuels, the first time a global climate agreement has done so. But it still leaves many developing countries far short of the funds they need to build cleaner energy and cope with extreme weather. And it leaves unresolved the crucial question of exactly how the burden of those cuts will be shared and what action is expected of individual nations.”
In a related story, the Times wrote “Negotiators Strike a Climate Deal, but World Remains Far From Limiting Warming/ Some activists called the agreement in Glasgow disappointing, but it established a clear consensus that all countries need to do much more.” It really seems that these people do not understand that agreeing to agree is not even agreement, let alone action. It’s the exact opposite.
Oh well. Maybe next year. We hear that it’s nice at Sharm El-Sheik. “Looking for a great beach destination? The Red Sea’s warm water is great for swimming, and there are miles of great beaches in Sharm El Sheikh for working on your tan, but if you’re a diver, look no further. We’re talking enormous schools of fish and tons of excellent dive sites.”
Also mass extinction. With hors d’oeuvres. And more talk at COP28 in the UAE.